Le Patin Libre, dancing on ice

Quebecois skating ensemble Le Patin Libre will perform at the M.V. Ice Arena this weekend. —Photo by Rolline Laporte

For the second year in a row, Le Patin Libre, the contemporary ice skating company from Montreal, will perform at the Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena. The five-person troupe combines dance, figure, and competitive skating for a dramatic high-speed show that has appeal for all ages. On their website, the members of Le Patin Libre refer to their unique art form as “performance art that uses ice, skates, and glide as media.” The work of the troupe has been described as contemporary dance on ice.

The Yard of Chilmark and the Ice Arena will sponsor the matinee and evening performances. Last April’s two shows sold out.

“There was so much clamor to bring them back,” says Yard artistic director David White. “We decided we would bring them back as soon as possible.”

The show that the troupe performed last year, “Vertical Influence,” which they will reprise this weekend, was commissioned jointly by two prestigious London dance organizations, and made its American premiere on Martha’s Vineyard.

Le Patin Libre was founded in 2005 by former high-level figure skaters who wanted to transform their athleticism into a means of free expression. “The idea is sort of like modern dance standing up to ballet in a way,” says Mr. White, who stresses that the performances will be very different from traditional story- or theme-based Ice Capades–style shows.

As explained on the website. “Far from sparkles, stereotypes, and champions’ demos, the creations of Le Patin Libre propose real works of art exploiting the amazing choreographic and theatrical potential of glide.”

The group’s name translates from the French as “free skate,” but Mr. White prefers the term “liberated skate.” “That’s what they are really all about — trying to establish the relationship of skates on ice in an utterly different way. There’s a rebellious aspect.”

The group first started out experimenting on frozen ponds around their native Quebec. “They got the attention of people in Europe,” says Mr. White. “They have performed in major dance venues in London and elsewhere. Things are going to start to snowball for them, no pun intended.”

The Times of London praised the group for their demonstration of “the attitude of of street dance, the athleticism of competitive skating, and the atmosphere of theater.”

Vertical Influences is divided into two parts. For the first half, the audience is seated in traditional style along the side of the arena. Then, during a short break, the Patin Libre members arrange 200 seats in different levels directly on the ice at one end of the rink. This provides the audience with a different, more intimate and more theater-oriented perspective.

Mr. White describes the effect. “What you find when you’re facing longitudinally is that you begin to see that there’s fog rising off the ice, from the ice encountering the warmer air. They point the lights into the eyes of the audience so that you can only hear the skates scratching the ice. Then out of the darkness bursts this group of people. It’s thrilling watching them come out of the gloom and then disappear back into it.”

Mr. White refers to the performance as less spectacle and more of an experience where the audience is engaged.

This summer, the Yard will be bringing the members of Patin Libre back to the Island to work on their next commission. The Ice Rink will provide them with rehearsal time. The members will offer workshops and demonstrations both this time around and during their summer stay. The Yard has a long history of establishing residencies for dancers and choreographers to create new work.

“I think the work of Le Patin Libre will generate other artists thinking about this way of working,” says Mr. White.